By Sharon Gittleman
ROYAL OAK – When Karen Melaas, gazed down at the panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt laid out on Troy Street in Royal Oak last Sunday, one person came to mind.
“I walk for a deceased brother-in-law,” she said.
He was a man she’d known for nearly 30 years. “He taught me how to drive,” she said. “He was my sister’s first boyfriend.”
Eight years ago, he died of AIDS.
“We buried him on Mother’s Day,” she said.
Melaas said she decided to march in the 13th annual AIDS Walk Detroit to honor her brother-in-law’s memory.
“Words couldn’t do any justice for what he was like as a person,” she said.
To Melaas, her brother-in-law was as close as any brother by blood could be.
“When my son was in the sixth grade, he read the Ryan White story,” she said. “I remember thinking, this is a disease that will never touch our lives.”
Square after square of the Quilt celebrated the lives of people struck down by HIV-AIDS.
Jonathan Klaas’ square included a sailboat, Klaas’ picture and a rising sun.
“Lives on in the hearts of all who knew him,” was embroidered on Randall Johnson’s square, along with a rainbow leading from the sea up to heaven.
According to Ken Rosen, president of the board of directors of Steppin’ Out, this year’s walk raised over $275,000 in gross revenues through walker pledges and corporate sponsorship contributions.
Though the total is not as high as last year, Rosen was content with the outcome. “It’s down from last year, by about 10 percent, but given the concern for Hurricane Katrina victims and all the fundraising that’s gone on for that I’m quite pleased with the funds raised.”
Rosen said that immediately after the hurricane hit registration for the walk dropped from an average of 100 people a day to an average of 8, though the numbers picked up again right after Labor Day.
Co-chairs of this year’s AIDS Walk were Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Sander Levin, and WB20-TV News Anchor Greg Russell.
Barbara Carpenter volunteered at the Walk while her partner Kimberly Bennett decided to march in the event.
Carpenter’s job was to make sure the quilt was protected from any damage.
One man has been coming to the quilt display for the past three years, with a panel he created for his partner, Carpenter said.
Every year he’s said he’ll turn in the panel to add to the memorial – then he finds he can’t bear to part with the reminder of his love for his partner, she said.
“He’s tried to turn it in, but he can’t,” she said. “He’s saying this year is the year.”
The man laid his panel on the curb next to the squares. A brown teddy bear is sewn on the quilt, near an embroidered phrase – “you are forever in my heart,” and the birth and death dates – Dec. 16, 1967 to Dec. 28, 1998.
A bouquet with three red roses was placed by the quilt’s side.
Women from the Delta Sigma Theta society posed for a group photograph by the quilt square two women from the sorority sewed in 2003.
They created their panel in response to their society’s call to do something to raise AIDS awareness and education. The group also held a community forum about HIV in Pontiac.
Delta Sigma member Meriel Parker, designed the square, which features the sorority’s symbol along with sprays of violets and red ribbons.
As a health care professional, Parker said she’s cared for many people who have HIV.
“As I walk each year, I hold in my mind the memory of many patients I had the privilege of working with who didn’t survive,” she said. “I walk with them.”